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“One Member: One Vote” by Paul Bagshaw

I think it is high time that each and every member of the Church of England had a direct vote for their representatives: One member: One vote.


At the moment Church members elect representatives to the Deanery Synod. Then Deanery Synod members elect members of the Diocesan and General Synods.


These few lay people become involved in the workings of the Church at every level. But worshippers and decision makers are largely disconnected from one another – and this disconnection is built into the legal structure of the Church.


The gap between central government and the parish is too great. The voice from the pew is muffled and distorted on its way to the ears of General Synod. Some representatives work hard to report back, but there is no structured accountability.


Direct election would mean that those elected should account to their electorate. It would mean the electorate have an incentive and encouragement to inform themselves on the issues, and to relate directly to their representatives. It would mean that all lay members should be taken seriously as full, adult, active members of the church.


Direct election would not solve the Church’s problems. But it would embody the conviction that God works through the whole church, not merely through the chosen few.


How we got into this trap

There are two core reasons why we have an indirect voting system.


First, in the discussions leading to General Synod through the 1960s, the clerical establishment did not trust the laity. Second, this was the minimum level of lay involvement necessary to persuade Parliament to transfer to the Church power over worship, doctrine and clerical discipline.


General synod came into being in 1970. The Worship and Doctrine Measure was passed in 1974. The Church achieved the powers it wanted and for 32 years we have been lumbered with a voting system designed to keep most lay people at the margins of church life.


Why change now?

The vote on women bishops merely exposed the problem: that General Synod membership does not accurately reflect the views of dioceses, let alone the view from the pews.


My gut feeling is that for some time the government of the church has been drifting away from involving lay people.  On the other hand I feel that the general culture of the Church seems to be moving slowly towards fuller inclusion of lay members.


Nonetheless the reality is that most are still excluded from substantive discussion about priorities, vision and direction.


Furthermore – and this has not changed from the 1960s – it is the lay people who very largely pay for the Church.


In the 1960s it was asserted that full lay participation would be too expensive and too complicated. But there are now far fewer members, and computers and the internet make practical arrangements so much easier and cheaper.


Notwithstanding elections for the President of the USA, a system of indirect votes for a governing body is indefensible.  It is not fair, not inclusive, not functional.


One member : One vote



Paul Bagshaw, a fellow member of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, was a leading member of the Modern Church Union, for whom he has written several papers.
You can read his blog Not the same stream at, where he has written in more detail about this – see his post of 5 December ‘How We Got Here Briefly

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The illustration is an engraving of the interior of Lambeth Palace, with discussions about the governance of the Church of England in full flood, downloaded from Wikimedia.

10 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

While I support the principle of this, I wonder how affordable it would be?

It costs millions to organise general or local elections, even a bye-election for a single seat comes in a hundreds of thousands. These costs fall to rate payers. Even postal voting is expensive, although a bit less cumbersome.

The question is who would pay. With parishes struggling to meet their quota more and more each year. With the Church centrally constrained in funding for mission and essential activities, would these elections actually be affordable?

We could use the internet polling system, but it would have to be secure and voters clearly identifiable in terms of eligibility to vote (on an Electoral Roll?) and would mean many disclosing personal information to yet another set of officials. I wouldn’t be prepared to do this, I think that the Church already has every detail of my life as it is.

What we need is root and branch reform of the Parochial election of people onto Deanery Synod, so that they become delegates, to represent the parish view. In the same way, delegates from Deanery to Diocesan synod need to represent the Deanery view. Following from this, those running for election to General Synod need to know that their status is to represent the diocesan view, not their personal opinions. If they vote contrary to the diocesan expressed view, their vote would be counted as invalid and ignored.

In addition, the two thirds majority voting required from each house, should be complemented by a final calculation of a simple majority across all three houses of General Synod. This would have resolved the issue on the day if it had been in place.

If we had this system in place, we would not be in the place that we are now. It all sounds Party Political, but I see no reason why delegates who claim their expenses for attendance at these various levels of synod, shouldn’t be required to represent the expressed view of the PCC, Deanery or Diocesan Synod at General Synod.

The mission of the church has been seriously compromised by the actions of a small minority at the House of Laity at General Synod which has discredited both the Synod system and worse still the reputation of the church as being inclusive and protective towards the needs and rights of women and other minority groups.

Paul Bagshaw said...


Thank you for your comment. To take your points in order:

1) Cost. This is important and, at the moment, I’m not sure how to cost it. But I think electronic voting (with provision for people to vote on paper too) should not be that much more expensive than the present system. And we’re not in the league of the costs of public elections.

2) The Electoral Roll. I think this will have to be a database held nationally. This needs considerable thought and I’ve started in my latest post:
And to be a member of any group is inherently to share a bit of yourself with it.

3) Delegates. First, parishes are not necessarily united in their views. Second, your system suggest government by plebiscite – if the delegates must solely follow the opinion of their electorate there’s no real need for them as intermediaries. Third, we elect people to discern ways forward on issues that are complex, with multiple possible outcomes, and where there is division of opinion. To do so they must be well informed and use their judgement and discretion. They act for the electorate, in ways they perceived to be in the church’s best interests, but cannot simply be delegated.

4) I’m in favour of a super-majority in certain defined situations. The goal is not to stop change but to legitimate significant change where uncertainty and disagreement makes it hard to discern corporately the will of God.

No system is going to stop people being convinced they are right despite being in a minority in the Church. A test of governance is that minorities remain fully participant members.

With women bishops the discrepancies in result between the differing layers of church government have exposed weaknesses in the system of governance.

I don’t suggest one member:one vote will solve the problems of church government, just that it will be a significant improvement.

07 December 2012 09:53
06 December 2012 16:09
Phil Groom said...

Some relevant points in today’s parliamentary Q&A session with Sir Tony Baldry:

Paul Bagshaw said...

Thank you for this nudge – very helpful. The permanent link is here:

07 December 2012 10:21
06 December 2012 16:18
Chris Fewings said...

Sir Tony Baldry, Church Commissioner, didn’t tell the House whether there would be a burning bush in the Moses Room:

“It may be for the convenience of Members of this House to know that they and Members of another place will have the opportunity to discuss these matters further at the meeting that I have arranged with the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the current Bishop of Durham, next Thursday at 9.30 in the Moses Room in the House of Lords.”

Perhaps a princess will rescue our little ark from the Nile?

07 December 2012 11:10
Chris Fewings said...

More from Hansard:

Sir Tony Baldry [church commissioner]: I entirely agree. Everyone in the Church of England needs to understand that, so far as Parliament and the wider community are concerned, this issue is increasingly seen as the Church of England discriminating against women. That is fundamentally wrong and fundamentally bad for the image and work of the Church.

07 December 2012 11:15
Chris Fewings said...

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The membership of deanery synods has constituted the electorate for the House of Laity since the General Synod was created in 1970. The review of synodical government chaired by Lord Bridge of Harwich recommended in 1977 that deanery synods should be abolished and that the lay members of diocesan synods and General Synods should be chosen by parish representatives, each parish to have one for every 50 people on the electoral roll. The General Synod decided, however, to retain deanery synods. In July 2011 the Synod decided to ask for alternatives to the present electoral system to be further explored. The review group’s report is due to come to the General Synod this coming year.

07 December 2012 11:18
Phil Groom said...

Slightly off-topic, but I find it bizarre that the powers-that-be seem to feel at liberty to issue sweeping statements opposing marriage equality without any membership consultation or Synod debate, yet when it comes to Women Bishops they allow themselves to be tied in knots by that process. Double standards at work somewhere, methinks!

Lay Anglicana said...

I’m pretty sure I know who the culprit is, that is to say I know what he looks like since I have seen him on television (muscular Christian ever so slightly gone to seed!)but I don’t know his name or address. Just as well for him! I am highly indignant that a mere apparatchik should seek to make policy on the hoof in this way. I fear that there is a clique of Conservative Evangelicals who have had it their own way ever since ++Carey. But he does NOT speak in my name, and I am every bit as much an Anglican as he is.

08 December 2012 17:54
07 December 2012 20:14

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